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15: Laboratory Project for Introduction to Engineering

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    For laboratory students will team up in 4 or 5 person teams. Each team would be expected to choose their own experiment (with instructor approval within a set of criteria that will ensure substantial sophistication). The main objective here is for the students to learn how real engineers work. It is very likely only prototypes will be developed by the end of this section, but that does not mean analysis, lab notebooks, and lab reports cannot be done even if the project is incomplete. Lab work usually takes many years to accomplish a significant result and it is important that students understand the process at this stage of their academic career.

    Each student is expected to have a laboratory journal for taking detailed notes during the experiment. All experiments expect a laboratory journal of some sort (professional lab books are the best, but for academia a simple non-spiral bound composition notebook). Each student is expected to write their own laboratory report. While writing group laboratory reports might be acceptable in the "real world" in academia the purpose is to learn and everyone must be involved by writing their own laboratory report and by so doing learn some laboratory techniques.

    For a modern laboratory project it is suggested that a control system with actuators and sensors be used to develop project that is capable of being tested in an experimental way. For this type of experiment there would need to be an graph of the data which would require an "independent" variable and a "dependent" variable (an x-y plot). For error bars you would need to perform an experiment at least five times (preferably more) for each independent variable.

    The intent is for a group to choose their own project and present it to the instructor for approval. This is so the student have a full experience.

    Keys to all the labs:

    • Labs must have one or more actuators
    • Labs must have one or more sensors
    • Actuators and sensors are to be controlled by a control system software (LabView, SciLab, or Octave) or just a standard programming language like Fortran or C++.
    • All notes, drawings, data, etc. are to be entered into a lab book following lab journal rules given herein. Each student should have a lab book and it will be graded for completeness and format. This is different from the final laboratory report which each student also must turn in but will have a different sense of completeness.

    To assist with ideas as small sample of ideas from other classes are presented here:

    Example lab projects (with important details missing – for student to figure out if they go for that lab):

    • Releasing different diameter rolled paper and measuring the speed from one point to another point. One actuator to drop the paper and two sensors to register time start and time end.
    • Catapult distance given different release angles. While this can be theoretically figured out that does not matter, the point is the process not the experiment per se.
    • Rotational speed of an AC generator connected to a light bulb (incandescent won’t work with an LED light) versus the brightness.
    • Length of string from fix point to bob versus period.
    • Weight of load for a vehicle versus the time to travel a set distance.
    • Coefficient of friction (of known surfaces) versus velocity of vehicle.
    • Power of motor versus velocity of a vehicle. Note the equipment this group had could control the power of the motor by software.
    • Cooling water by stirring and not stirring as a function of time (two graphs to compare).
    • For a full tub of water the size of an opening versus rate of water flow. This had some technical problems that made the build of this very difficult but was doable.
    • Water flow on a water wheel versus electrical output. Lots of water requires some work outside so don’t do this type of experiment in the winter as you will get wet (even the professor might get wet during observation).

    • 15.1: Laboratory Journal Format
      Basic description of laboratory journal format. All students should have a laboratory journal.
    • 15.2: Laboratory Report Format
      Basic description of laboratory report format.  All students should have a laboratory report regardless if they worked in a group, this deviates from "real life" but is necessary in an educational environment where the goal is learning.
    • 15.3: Example of Laboratory Report
      This is a simplified example of a laboratory report to help students understand how to write a laboratory report.  It is NOT realistic and definitely not advanced enough for the actual lab.
    • 15.4: Sketch of how to present data in laboratory (i.e. graph with errors)
      This is a collection of notes to help the student present their data.  It is in Octave but could easily be done in any other programming language. It is not meant as definitive but just some ideas that a student could use.

    15: Laboratory Project for Introduction to Engineering is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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